When you have to interview someone like Jennifer Winget, the first question that comes to mind is how she manages to play such intriguing characters, which lie on opposite sides of the emotional (and personality) spectrum, with so much ease. Most performers excel in one specific genre, but not Winget. The actor has gone from playing a complex and obsessive character in one show (Beyhadh and Beyhadh 2) to a cultured, naive, timid, and trusting one in her next (Bepannaah), followed by a dedicated army officer who single-handedly pins down baddies (Code M). The fact that she can play such versatile and challenging roles with so much ease proves her mettle as an actor, making her one of the best in the industry.
We caught up with the actor for the fourth episode of the #SerialChiller series where she talks about being her own cheerleader, the challenges of playing such complex characters, always going by her gut feeling, and trusting her instincts.
Cosmopolitan India: Your shows Beyhadh, Bepannaah, and Beyhadh 2 have been very successful and widely appreciated. Does the kind of fan following you have, bring a certain pressure; how do you deal with it?
Jennifer Winget: I know it sounds very cliché, but I enjoy that kind of pressure. It pushes me to go one up and get better at what I do. And I do perform better under pressure. Having said that, I am a nervous wreck before the release of any (of my) shows; I keep imagining countless ‘what if’ situations in my head. But I am my own cheerleader and I always give myself that boost of confidence. The trick is to find that sweet spot and make the most of your opportunities, and God takes care of the rest.
CI: As a child actor, you got to be on set with many big actors. What’s your biggest takeaway from those memories; were you awestruck at the beginning?
JW: It was a huge deal to be on sets as a kid. Because of my age back then, I didn’t understand what was going on. But now, looking back, it was the sheer energy of being on set amidst the stars, that is something that I will always cherish. And that’s why, on set is my favourite place to be. Everyone is working towards the same goal—to deliver a magnificent scene. All the members of the cast and crew are running in a well-oiled machine and I’m a part of it.
CI: What would you say to child actors today?
JW: They already know everything. In fact, they might end up teaching me a few things. When I started, I didn’t even know how to hold a make-up brush!
CI: Did you ever expect Dill Mill Gayye to become a cult show? If it had to be released today, would you do anything differently?
JW: It was already a big show before I entered. So I just hoped to seamlessly fit into the narrative when I came in. I also had a lot of friends on the show, so it was just me taking a leap of faith. If there’s anything that I’d have done differently, it would be focusing on my acting.
CI: Maya Mehrotra in Beyhadh is an extremely complex character. And unlike movies, TV shows last longer and you end up being in character—emotionally and mentally—for so long. How do you deal with the impact of that and how do you decompress?
JW: As an actor, you learn that on the job. I think it’s a blessing and a curse for actors to be able to switch on and off. You have good days and bad days. It can be difficult to get out of the character just as much as getting into it. For instance, you could be happy and energetic but you have to kill someone on the show. Speaking for myself, it's easy for me to make that switch. When I’m done, I’m done. As for the role of Maya, it was very challenging to essay so many emotions, but this is what makes acting so satisfying. I love the challenges.
CI: Given the success of Beyhadh, what was your first day like on set for the second season?
JW: I was confident but also nervous; I knew the character and the foundation very well. Most of the team and the cast were new, except for a few people. As with any new show, we had teething problems too. But it was pulled out due to COVID.
CI: Code M is one of the most physically challenging shows you’ve ever done. But the challenge always brings out the best in you, doesn’t it?
JW: Regardless of who you are and what your profession is, you must take care of your body and mind, and take your health very seriously. I got an opportunity to be a part of Code M right after Beyhadh, so I was very happy and excited to prepare for the part. This is something that doesn’t happen as much on TV because it is time-bound and there’s a lot of pressure for us to deliver from shoot to edit. I was lucky to get this opportunity on OTT as I got to prepare before and during the show. I hope that we come back with more action in the third season.
CI: Could you tell us about the toll it took on you mentally because everyone just saw the rough and tough Major Monica Mehra?
JW: It’s not that bad and that’s the truth. Like I said before, even the challenging bits are satisfying. Instead of it taking a toll on me, I was looking, feeling, and performing better. I came out a better and fitter actor and person.
CI: How do you motivate yourself on the days when you just don’t feel like working? What are your pick-me-ups or guilty pleasures that instantly boost your mood?
JW: I give myself a pep talk in the mirror. What I say is between me and myself! There are days when you’re drained and are looking for motivation—I have a chat and it works most of the time. When it doesn’t, I just get up and get to work. Work has always been my stress buster; it drives away my blues. Both in life and at work, I prefer to face the situation rather than avoid it.
CI: Shows have changed over time with the changing tastes and preferences of the viewers. How has your process of choosing scripts and characters evolved; do you trust your instinct in these matters?
JW: I have always gone with my gut and followed my instincts. It’s worked for me so far and I hope it continues. The story is most important to me and everything else comes after that. It's one of the reasons why I take such long breaks between shows.
CI: What is the best piece of career advice you’ve received?
JW: My manager told me this, “An actor gets paid to wait, not to act.” Acting is something you love. What he was trying to say is that we don’t have job security and don’t know when we will get our next project. And while you wait, you may end up making a hasty decision or end up doing something you don’t want to.
CI: What does your ‘me time’ look like?
JW: I am a complete couch potato who loves to 'Netflix and Chill'! And I love travelling; if I’m not on my couch, I’m on a plane. That’s why I love my work so much because it gives me the chance to travel and visit so many places.
CI: Over the years, you’ve done some remarkable work. But were there any projects that you’ve wanted to be a part of but didn't get to?
JW: Most of the time, my gut feelings and instincts have worked. What hasn’t worked for me, hasn’t worked at all. I was a fan of The Night Manager, but things sadly didn’t work out. As far as the shows that I’ve been watching are concerned, I’ve just started Manhattan but my favourite show is Breaking Bad which always tops that list.
CI: What did you think of the TV shows while growing up?
JW: Honestly, I didn’t watch too many shows because I wasn’t allowed to. But the depth in those shows was something else. They were simple yet so complicated in terms of the relationships.
CI: Complete the sentence: If not for a TV actor Jennifer Winget would be ....
CI: If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self; about work, love, or anything else?
JW: To have more patience. And that you did good.
CI: Did it take time for you to connect with any character that you’ve played?
JW: The obvious answer would be Maya (Beyhadh). It did take time, but not in a bad way. It took longer to understand the character and why she did what she did. For an actor to be able to justify that was a challenge, but it was also a very satisfying experience.
CI: What character of yours do you think resonates with you the most?
JW: There is a bit of me in every character. Because that’s when the real emotion comes out.
CI: Do you have a favourite genre?
JW: I love the thriller and comedy genre.
CI: You’ve been in front of the camera for decades now, do you feel like you’re still learning new things?
JW: I think that the way we act now is changing; it’s real and subtle. Acting itself has evolved as a profession where not everything is spoon-fed to the audience. They have evolved, which is why the actors have evolved. I hope this continues because it's the only way we will get better and get to be part of some very cool content.
CI: What is your everyday morning routine?
JW: I used to wake up very late, but now I wake up early; it gives me time to do the things I want to do like play with my dogs. I also have a new-found love for gardening; my house looks like a nursery now. The feeling of your hands being in mud is so therapeutic!
CI: Everyone’s got one thing on their mind, ‘What is Jennifer Winget coming up with’?
JW: Even I want to know that! But as long as I’m on people's minds, I’m happy.